Standon Calling Festival... The Best Festival I've Ever Been To
Well apparently 2005 was a top year for fledgling festivals to get off the ground, because there seems to be a glut of them celebrating their ten year anniversaries this summer. End of the Road down in Dorset, Latitude, Kendal Calling, and YNOT festival were all ones that had been a twinkling in the organisers’ eyes back in late 2004. And as is the case with all great things, they started as tiny seeds and grew and grew to huge proportions over the last decade.
Standon Calling is one of those, but although it is massive now compared to its humble beginnings as a party in a field for a few mates, it still retains that magic of a little gathering of friends, well ok, maybe about 6,000 friends.
First of all I have to describe the setting, it’s only a short drive from the north of London, up in the beautiful countryside of Hertfordshire, but to be honest it was like entering another world for the weekend. Winding down a little country lane amidst golden fields of barley, and then taking that first view over the campsite was breathtaking. Stunning place. And luckily for us, calm, settled sunshine for the whole weekend too.
What I hadn’t realised though, when I opted to go along and review for Subba-Cultcha, was there is always a theme for the festival, and in their celebratory year, not one but two themes going on… “a town of two faces”. I’ve always been a bit fancy-dress averse, but I didn’t want to look hopelessly out of place, so I trawled dressing up boxes, friends’ wardrobes and local charity shops the whole week before. A town of two faces turned out to be the best possible way to describe what was going on in Standon this weekend. By day every single person was cowboyed/girled up to the eyeballs, which made it very easy for me to spot bands wandering about as most of them tended to have the regulation black skinny jeans/black top/wayfarers on! And by night… well I’ll come to that in a bit!
But let’s get to the important part – the music. Some of the festival veterans I spoke to (such as Big Festival Jeff) thought the line-up this year wasn’t as sharp as in previous years, but it suited me down to the ground. Lots of big headlining names such as The Dandy Warhols, Basement Jaxx, Little Dragon, The Horrors, and the Magic Numbers, but also loads of ground-breaking new acts that were on my radar, for example Real Lies, Crows, The Nova Twins, and Kwabs. And of course my new best bands Slaves and Alias Kid. And the Cuban Brothers too!!
For a small festival they certainly crammed in more acts than I thought would have been possible over the space of three days, and at times I really did feel the need to clone myself as I wanted to see and hear it all. The music wasn’t the sole attraction at Standon though; the open-air swimming pool was permanently filled with an odd mix of frolicking families and clusters of party animals, the kids’ areas had non-stop entertainment to keep children of all ages (the youngest I saw was just ten weeks old) from turning feral, the food was as varied and as tasty as festival food could ever possibly be, and the beverage selection (as you’d expect at a sponsorship-free event) was delightful.
So Friday’s box of pleasures began for me over at the Big Top for the opening band Waste from nearby Stevenage. Wow, what a start, this band were rocking in a kind of Arctic Monkeys vein, and had some crazy riffs. The Thirst were next up over on the main stage and I loved their logo and also the T-shirts too – thanks guys!
I saw Lucy Spraggan next who has had three albums out, but if you’re like me and don’t watch television, you might be oblivious to the fact that she has X-Factor history. I thought she was pretty good. I then ran back over to see Prides in the tent, very catchy Glaswegian synth poppy sounds, but my interview with them went a little bit Pete Tong after I thought Callum said he was from ‘Shitland’ instead of ‘Shetland’ and I got completely thrown by it…
The most memorable part of Friday night was the electronic thrill of ‘8:58’ (aka Orbital’s Paul Hartnoll). I do think the scheduler missed a trick by putting him on the bill at 9.45, but there you go, not everyone thinks on my wavelength. Whatever time it was, the whole tent was jumping to the mysterious guy hiding up there in the smoke-filled darkness with just two big headlights on his forehead to show where he was. Could have been a robo-cyber-cowboy for all we knew, which brings me to the other face of Standon…
...When the sun sets in the west the town known as Duplicity really comes to life with the weirdest and wildest costumes you could ever wish to see. Some of the attendees here must have been getting their outfits ready for months. Scary. The other scary thing is that the music/bars all have a 5am license, which is great if you’re one of the party animals from the swimming pool. Probably not so great if you’re trying to get a ten week old baby to sleep.
Saturday dawned bright and early and the babies and children of the site got their own back a little for the lack of sleep with some epic water pistol battles. Certain band members and even the burly security team joined in with the fun and mayhem. I witnessed some of the quickest gun draw duals since watching Bonanza repeats as a kid. Music-wise, day two of Standon was all about Alias Kid starting things off with some awesome Manchester swagger at high noon, followed in swift succession by Crows, Black Honey, and Real Lies. All of whom had a real air of power and panache to their sets. And for bands so young, a great sense of self-assuredness. Real Lies also have a genius line in understated-ness and their catchy, speechy electronica had me hooked.
After another delicious veggie burger (yes I follow the burger-a-day festival diet), it was off to the main stage to wait for Slaves to make their appearance. And make it they did! What’s not to love about two loud and lairy youngsters (and a Manta-Ray) from Tunbridge Wells giving it their all and frightening security with their superhuman leaps across the crowd?! The Manta-Ray went so far with his stage dive that he ended up in the pool I think, which was quite fitting. Slaves set was absolutely skin-tight, not surprising given the number of festivals they’ve been at already this summer. I think the crowd was a bit split in whether to love or hate them and I guess they’re not everybody’s cup of tea, but I’m definitely in the love them camp. So much so that I stayed out partying til 5am. Well if you can’t lasso them, join them as they say in all the best spaghetti westerns.
After not very much sleep at all, I started my Sunday watching the ‘Rockaoke’ on the main stage where Big Festival Jeff graced the backing band with a couple of belters and before too long it was time for the stupendous novelty act The Cuban Brothers, who I don’t think are actually Cuban. Or brothers. But they do have a hilarious line in dirty chat, being about as rude as they could get away with on a Sunday afternoon in front of an audience of mums/dads and their offspring (and of course the party animal types).
I was a touch bemused at first, but when they started to dance, they stole my heart clean away. For someone whose favourite music video is RUN-DMC vs Jason Nevins this was a real treat. Humour, moves, outfits and that lewd chat all added up to one of make one of my top festival memories. In fact I can’t un-see the image of a certain Cuban Brother in his tight, little, next-to-nothing pants doing a bit of reverse twerking. I do hope the kids that were present aren’t damaged for life by their crotch height view.
Almost at the end of a fabulous weekend, but just about the energy left after crying tears of laughter to dash back to the Big Top to see The Horrors who as I had expected put on a polished performance and really could easily have been headlining the main stage. However this honour was left to none other than Basement Jaxx, who after a bit of crowd frenzying “I say Basement … You say Jaxx”, didn’t honestly have a lot to say to me. I’ve never been a big fan of anyone telling me what to do, so bands that scream at me to “get your hands in the air” are a bit of an instant turn-off. Which was ok, as I managed to find a little patch of lawn with two alternating djs spinning some deep crazy house tunes and that was where I stayed until my feet just couldn’t take it anymore at 3am.
Overall Standon Calling was one of the best festivals I've been to, a little something for everyone, and if you can’t please all of the people all of the time, you should aim to be like Standon and please 99% of the people 99% of the time. I truly had an enthralling and enchanted weekend and I shall definitely be a regular returner to this fabulous festival.
To find out more about Standon Calling click here.
Words & photos by Mary Long